As a federal judge, Sotomayor has never ruled directly on the core issue of a woman's right to an abortion. Senators will press, likely without much luck, to determine her take on the hot-button social issue. Although some of her critics believe her views on abortion would be consistent with that of the Obama administration, in one case she did side with the Bush administration on banning government funding to international groups that provided abortion. The decision was a disappointment to abortion rights activists.
"We simply don't know where Judge Sotomayor is on core constitutional protections in Roe v. Wade," said Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Gun Rights advocates are critical of a 2009 appeals court decision, which Sotomayor joined, that held the 2nd Amendment's right to bear arms only applies to the federal government and not to state governments that may be implementing gun restrictions. However, criticism of her decision in the case was dampened when conservative judges in a different circuit ultimately came to the same conclusion, finding that a recent Supreme Court case striking down Washington, D.C.'s gun ban did not apply to states.
In 1981, while serving on the board of directors for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sotomayor signed a document explaining whether the group should support a bill to restore the death penalty in New York State. The memo read: "Capitol Punishment is associated with evident racism in our society. The number of minorities and the poor executed or awaiting execution is out of proportion to their numbers in the population."
One of the first cases the Supreme Court will hear in the fall concerns campaign finance and Sotomayor, unlike other recent nominees, has some experience with the issue. From 1988 to 1992, Sotomayor served on the New York City Campaign Finance board, an agency that regulates campaign funds. In a 1996 law review article, she questioned the role of private money in campaigns.
Earlier in her career, Sotomayor spent five years working as an assistant district attorney in New York City. Democrats of the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked Sotomayor's former boss, Robert Morgenthau, the district attorney from New York County since 1975, former FBI director Louis Freeh and Michael Garcia, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to testify on her behalf. Over the weekend, a White House spokesman released a statement saying, "Judge Sotomayor now has the support of every major law enforcement organization in the United States representing nearly all of law enforcement."
The committee has read through the over 230 opinions Sotomayor authored on the appellate court, and White House counsel Greg Craig has taken the lead in preparing Sotomayor for the hearings.
Committee staffers have also read through boxes of documents from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Sotomayor served in various capacities on the group's board from 1980 to 1992. Republicans have called PRLDEF a "controversial organization" that has taken "a number of positions that are well outside the mainstream of America."
But in early July, Craig wrote a letter to Alabama Sen. Sessions saying that PRLDEF is a "highly respected civil rights legal fund" that has worked with groups such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund for equal opportunity.
A spokesperson for LatinoJustice says that in her role serving in a voluntary capacity Sotomayor never directed which legal issues the group would target.
The White House issued a statement saying the committee should not link Sotomayor with every document produced during her time serving on the board: "Documents that Judge Sotomayor did not write, review, or approve -- many of them more than two decades old -- are irrelevant to her nomination. The Senate should judge her on her own record -- especially her judicial record -- not on briefs that other lawyers wrote 20 years ago."